TITLE: SIGCSE -- What's the Buzz? AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 20, 2010 9:04 PM DESC: ----- BODY:

[A transcript of the SIGCSE 2010 conference: Table of Contents]

Some years, I sense a definite undercurrent to the program and conversation at SIGCSE. In 2006, it was Python on the rise, especially as a possible language for CS1. Everywhere I turned, Python was part of the conversation or a possible answer to the questions people were asking. My friend Jim Leisy was already touting a forthcoming CS1 textbook that has since risen to the top of its niche. It pays for me to talk to people who are looking into the future! Other years, the conference is melange of many ideas with little or no discernible unifier. SIGCSE 2008 seemed to want to be about computing with big data, but even a couple of high-profile keynote addresses couldn't put that topic onto everyone's lips. 2007 brought lots of program about "computational thinking", but there was no buzz. Big names and big talks don't create buzz; buzz comes from the people. This year's wanna-be was concurrency. There were papers and special sessions about its role in the undergrad curriculum, and big guns Intel, Google, and Microsoft were talking it up. But conversation in the hallways and over drinks never seemed to gravitate toward concurrency. The one place where I saw a lot of people gathering to discuss it was a BoF on Thursday night, but even then the sense was more anticipation than activity. What are others doing? Maybe next year. The real buzz this year was CS, and CS ed, looking outward. Consistent with recent workshops like SECANT, SIGCSE 2010 was full of talk about computer science interacting with other disciplines, especially science but also the arts. Some of this talk was about how CS can affect science education, and some was about how other disciplines can affect CS education. But there was also a panel on integrating computing research and development with R&D in other sciences. While this may look like a step outside of SIGCSE's direct sphere of interest, it is essential that we keep the sights of our CS ed efforts out in the world where our graduates work. Increasingly, this is again in applications where computing is integral to how others do their jobs. An even bigger outward-looking buzz coalesced around CS educators working with K-12 schools, teachers, and students. A big part of this involved teaching computer science in middle schools and high schools, including AP CS. But it also involved the broader task of teaching all students about "computational thinking": what it means, how to do it, and maybe even how to write programs that automate it. Such a focus on the general education of students is real evidence of looking outward. This isn't about creating more CS majors in college, though few at SIGCSE would object to that. It's about creating college students better prepared for every major and career they might pursue. To me, this is a sign of how we in CS ed are maturing, going from a concern primarily for our own discipline to one for computing's larger role in the world. That is an ongoing theme of these blog, it seems, so perhaps I am suffering from confirmation bias. But I found it pretty exciting to see so many people working so hard to bring computing into classrooms and into research labs as a fundamental tool rather than as a separate discipline. -----